Boomerang Brings Your Friends To Social Gifting Game With A Million Dollars Of Lightbank Cash

We're a little coupon-ed out. But freebies from friends? That could work.

Boomerang gives your friends benefits.

The new social gifting service lets your send vouchers, not just coupons or mere Happy Birthday well wishes, to people via email or Facebook. It launches today with $1 million in backing from Groupon cofounder Brad Keywell's venture fund Lightbank. It'll need the momentum in the increasingly crowded gifting market.

Boomerang's shtick is that unlike traditional gift companies (whether digital or of the gift-card kind) which rely on buyers choosing a suitable gift for the recipient. Boomerang uses the recipients Facebook data and specific geographic location to come up with a short list of suitable events—things like dinner at a good restaurant, spa visits, or more outdoors pursuits like kayaking. 

The integration with your Facebook social graph is pretty deep, Founder and CEO Zachary Smith tells Fast Company, and e-mail functionality eliminates the need for paper. Boomerang gift recipients gets links to a subsection of the Boomerang website which they can then open on their smartphones and show to merchants to redeem gifts. So it's a little simpler than waving a Groupon printout at a restaurant and asking someone to do math. Smith noted gifting is a hundred billion-dollar space, but one that's "dominated by massive national players—the Amazons, Barnes & Nobles, Best Buys, and Walmarts of the world. We really want to put local businesses into that fray, via an experience that's a lot more thoughtful, a lot more personalized." Boomerang is riding Groupon's wave of discovery, capitalizing on the idea that friends can turn you on to a merchant you never knew was right around the corner with the hope that you'll choose local businesses over big name chains.

Unlike discount apps or deal sites, Smith thinks Boomerang has an edge because it lets its merchant partners reach people who may be interested in spending more money with them "without cheapening their brand." The gifts aren't necessarily very heavily discounted, and they're also immediately shared on Facebook to the participants' friendship groups—which is a coveted form of free brand exposure.

That's not to say Boomerang is entirely devoid of deals. There's also a class of small free gifts which the company hopes will drive interest in its services, which Facebook users may consider giving to a friend when they notice a birthday alert instead of merely dropping a quick "happy birthday" status update to them via the social network. Merchant partners have been keen to offer these free gifts, Smith noted, in the form of perhaps a voucher for free drinks when you buy a meal because they see the friend-to-friend marketing potential of Boomerang's Facebook integration.

This notion of value-added word of mouth marketing and the idea of businesses and potential clients discovering one another is really what's behind the quiet growth of the entire social gifting market. LinkedIn's Reid Hoffman was so impressed by Stockholm-based social gifters Wrapp that he injected some serious venture cash into the firm early this year. Then there's Giftiki, Giftly, and Shareagift, which have a slightly different business model but which are definitely leveraging the rise in public awareness of gifting friends with real-world experiences via digital companies.

Initially Chicago-based the company plans to expand to other U.S. cities by the end of the summer, and it also is trying to distinguish itself from other social gifting firms by creating agreements with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Mercy Corps, a national disaster relief enterprise, so that if you think a friend of yours would appreciate a more ethical gift, you can actually donate in their name to these charities. Smith explained that as Boomerang expands to new cities, it will be partnering with a local charity to expand this part of the company's offering.

[Image: Flickr user wine me up]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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